There are not many topics in Christianity that are “controversial.” The reason is that the Bible is considered God’s inspired word; or God-breathed. For there to be any controversy, a person would have to not believe God’s own inspired word. The more likely disagreements in Christianity might come from criticism of denominations that are more legalistic, or those adding rules and rituals on top of of the core tenets of the Christian faith.
Yet, when I have brought up my belief in soul sleep over the past year to some Christian friends, it went over like a lead balloon. Most Christians are taught that they will go to Heaven a second after they die. This is a nice thought and many don’t want any reason to think differently.
But, the Bible is not flawed in anyway and it doesn’t contradict itself because it is the inspired word of God and God does not make mistakes; only humans do.
So here is the rub; there may be only one passage in the entire Bible that those who don’t accept the concept of soul sleep rely on for their position.
It appears very likely to me, that the one passage has a misplaced comma (,) That’s right, a misplaced comma may make all the difference in the whole question of soul sleep. This misplaced comma, and several other passages in the Bible, explain what actually happens to a Christian after they die (assuming that the Rapture hadn’t occurred yet). Also, the Bible does not contradict itself, and there are a couple of contradictions if you don’t accept soul sleep.
Translation Can Produce a Tiny Alteration
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. It was then translated to English. If you have ever read the King James version of the Bible, you may know that King James used 47 translators and scholars to produce an incredible translation of the Bible, which took seven years to complete. Even before this time, the Tyndale Bible, translated by William Tyndale in the early 1500s, was the first Bible to translate the early Hebrew and Greek into English. The King James version relied heavily on Tyndale’s work.
According to the website Compelling Truth: “The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek. The original Hebrew and Aramaic languages were written without punctuation and without vowels, but did include spaces between words.”
Now remember that important fact when you consider the wording of Luke 23:42-43 that quotes Jesus exchange with the criminal who hung on the Cross next to him: “And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
For those who don’t believe in soul sleep, they most often point to this passage, where Jesus is telling this man that “today” he would be with Jesus in Heaven.
But wait, as the information from Compelling Truth above about Hebrew and Greek states, the original languages had no punctuation. So, what if Tyndale or one of King James’ translators got any of the punctuation wrong?
When Jesus tells the criminal that “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise,” there is a possibility that the second comma in the sentence is one-word off. As a matter of fact, by moving it one-word over, it then conforms perfectly with something Jesus says to Mary Magdaline after he rises from the tomb. So, the sentence would read: “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus is assuring him that he would join Jesus in paradise, but not that he would be in Heaven that day. It means that Jesus is telling him today; that day. The promise is made that day, giving the criminal the relief that Heaven awaits him.
That one-word relocation of a single comma, that wasn’t in the original Greek, changes everything.
In John 20:17, after Jesus rises from the tomb, he tells Mary Magdalene: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
He had not yet ascended to Heaven. Even Jesus. So, when you move the comma just one word, there is no contradiction in the two passages and it also does not contradict other passages in the Bible that would indicate that soul sleep is what happens when a Christian dies.
More Passages that Conform
Would Jesus have brought Lazarus back or would Peter have brought Tabitha back if Heaven is a billion times more wonderful than this earth? On the other hand, if they were only “asleep” and had not yet ascended to Heaven, then it would be much more probable. It would also explain why Jesus was not in a big rush to reach Lazarus.
In John 11:11, we learn: “After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” He doesn’t say; our friend Lazarus has ascended to Heaven, but I will return his spirit to the earth. In the next two verses, it says: “His disciples replied, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will get better. ”They thought that Jesus was talking about actual sleep, but He was speaking about the death of Lazarus.” Notice in this passage that it clearly says that Jesus refers to death as “sleep.”
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the Apostle Paul tells us: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” Notice that those who are believers, and who are dead, will rise first at the Rapture. If there was no soul sleep, they would already be in Heaven.
These are only a few reasons why I believe that soul sleep is most likely accurate. I understand that believers want to know that one second they have died and the next second, they are with God in Heaven. I believe that soul sleep does not alter what they would experience. I believe that when a Christian dies, it is like going to sleep. This was even the term that Jesus used. And when they wake up, even if it is 100 years later and they are in Heaven, their experience is that things happened immediately.
In Matthew 27:52, at the moment that Jesus dies on the Cross, it says: “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” See that term used again: “fallen asleep.”
In 1 Corinthians 15:6, it states: “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” In 2 Peter 3:4: “They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
And just two verses prior to a verse above, we hear in 1 Thessalonians 4:14: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” And again in Thessalonians, in 5:10: “who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
In 1 Peter 4:6, we are told: “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” Even to those who are now dead, so they might be judged. “Might be” is clearly a future event relating to those who are already dead.
Jesus said “Why make ye this ado, and weep? The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth,” in Mark 5:39, when Jairus’ daughter had died. Those who congregated had laughed at the suggestion, but did they simply misunderstand what Jesus meant? Was her soul sleeping? This is the term that Jesus used.
In 1 Thessalonians, 2:19, the Apostle Paul says “ For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” Paul doesn’t assume that the Thessalonians, after death, are already in Jesus’ presence. He says instead that they will be in Jesus’ presence at his second coming. That indicates that the believers, after death, will be in soul sleep and not yet in Jesus’ presence. They will be in his presence, along with the living believers, at the second coming.
Jesus is Clear
Christians are put in the position of actually denying Jesus’ own words when they discount the concept of soul sleep. One would have to believe that the Apostle John got Jesus’ words wrong in John 14:1-4 in denying soul sleep because Jesus’ own words were so clear.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Sometimes critical thinking requires paying close attention to what is said and how it is said. In these passages, Jesus says that he will come back (the rapture) and “take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Clearly, Jesus is describing Heaven and saying very clearly that the believer will not experience Heaven until Jesus returns and takes the believer there. Jesus says that he will go there (ahead of time) to “prepare a place for you.”
Why would Jesus talk about coming back before the believer goes to Heaven, if the believer is already in Heaven before Jesus returns?
Even many pastors reject the concept of soul sleep, but I believe it is only because they don’t want people to believe that their arrival in Heaven would be delayed; even if that would not be how the Christian who is deceased would experience it. Just as a person goes to sleep, they aren’t aware of the state of sleep as it occurs, but wake up knowing only that they slept. You have heard the term “Biblical truth.” Why deny this Biblical truth?
It is worth repeating what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians: 4:13-18
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
I know that many can excitedly point to something Jesus said to Niodemus in John 3:13, which would seem like an irrefutable statement of support for this position, but I will parse it and point out that it may not be so. Starting in the 12th verse, Jesus says:
“If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.”
That would seem to be the clearest evidence in Scripture of the position of soul sleep, but as someone who advocates for critical thinking, I would point out that Jesus says “no man” and not “no man’s soul or no man’s spirit,” so his statement could be used more correctly by those who don’t believe that Elijah went to Heaven before death or maybe the same for Enoch. The issue of soul sleep applies to those who have died, not those who have been “caught up” while still alive before the Rapture.
Those who are believers and who have died will finally go to Heaven when Jesus returns at the Rapture. They have been asleep, according to the Apostle Paul, yet just as we sleep and have no awareness of what we are doing while asleep, those believers will “wake” and be in Heaven. This is Biblical.